Monday, December 26, 2016

It's Flu Season!

While it isn’t possible to put a date on when it starts and ends, influenza (the viruses that cause the flu) activity often increases in October/November and peaks between December and March. When it hits your home, school or work, it may seem easy to observe how effortlessly the virus spreads.

While vaccination coverage among health care professionals that work directly with patients in a traditional care facility is rising, focus on increasing that rate can help reduce the rate of infection even further.

Flu Facts Flu Vaccine Facts
  • Anyone can get sick from the flu. Seriousness can be mild to severe and in some cases lead to death.
  • The virus is most commonly spread through fluid droplets of an infected person talking, coughing or sneezing.
  • Symptoms appear 1-7 days after becoming sick. Some may not have any symptoms. The virus can be spread to others even before symptoms appear.
  • Flu vaccines are safe and serious problems are very rare. The most common is soreness around the injection.
  • Flu vaccines are made with either killed or weakened viruses and cannot cause the flu.
  • Although viruses are unpredictable, the vaccine protects against those that research indicates to be most common during the upcoming season.

Does the influenza virus change?

Constantly changing, influenza may do so by “drift” or by “shift.”

Antigenic Drift – Small genetic changes can occur during the virus replication cycle. Often, if a person has already been exposed to a particular virus, their antibodies will still recognize and fight this slightly different virus. This called cross-protection. However, if enough changes accumulate, the previous antibodies may not be effective.

To keep up with antigenic drift, the composition of flu vaccines is continually reviewed, predictions made about which should be addressed and regional recommendations made based on prevalence.

Antigenic Shift – An abrupt or major change in the virus—resulting in a new combination of genes in the virus—can shift a virus that previously infected animals to being able to infect people. Often when a shift occurs, most people have little or no antibody protection against the virus. This fact is what allows the virus to spread quickly and can result in a pandemic.

To avoid antigenic shift, strategies such as limiting exposure to diseased animals, vaccinating livestock and vaccinating farmers for similar viruses to promote cross-protection are in place.

Flu vaccination recommended for healthcare providers.

As of November 1, 2016, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC), Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP), and the Healthcare Infection Control Practices Advisory Committee (HICPAC) recommend that all U.S. health care workers* get vaccinated annually against influenza. Unfortunately, the two most common reasons reported for not getting vaccinated include thinking that the flu vaccine doesn’t work or not thinking it is important to get.

Breaking the chain of infection through health care workers can help decrease the spread of the virus to vulnerable individuals that come under their care as well help limit antigenic drift. During the 2014-15 flu season, 64.3% of health care personnel were vaccinated. Unfortunately, those that worked in long-term care facilities—generally providing care to the elderly or other vulnerable individuals—had the lowest coverage at 54.4%. Across all types of facilities, vaccine coverage was 85.8% for those whose employers who required it, 68.4% when recommended by the employer and only 43.4% when there was no policy or recommendation in place.

Does the facility you work at have a policy or provide incentives regarding the flu vaccine? 

If not, share this article now! Helping to dispel myths about the flu vaccine and promote its purpose among health care professionals and facility managers is an important step in flu prevention. Explore at

*Health care workers include (but are not limited to) physicians, nurses, nursing assistants, therapists, technicians, emergency medical service personnel, dental personnel, pharmacists, laboratory personnel, autopsy personnel, students and trainees, contractual staff not employed by the health-care facility, and persons (e.g., clerical, dietary, housekeeping, laundry, security, maintenance, administrative, billing, and volunteers) not directly involved in patient care but potentially exposed to infectious agents that can be transmitted to and from health care workers and patients.

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